Joseph Stirk Journal, Cory Library, Grahamstown

Joseph Stirk Journal, Cory Library, Grahamstown

Stirk and his journal

Joseph Stirk, (1801-1881) was an 1820 Settler in Wainwright’s Party. He became a farmer, with properties at Goxa Poort and Southey’s Poort, Peddie district, Eastern Cape. In 1826, he married Sophia Southey (1804-1880). Her parents were George and Joan Southey and she was the sister of William, Richard and George among the Southeys’ eight children. The Stirks had six children (Elizabeth, William, George, Charles, Frances, Mary). They were Methodists. Joseph and Sophia were buried in Peddie churchyard.

Joseph Stirk’s Journal was in private family hands in the 1940s and the present whereabouts of the original manuscript is not known. In relation to the Cory Library collections, it exists in two connected forms. The complete journal in typescript and transcription was donated to the Cory Library by Mr A (Anthony) Jolly and consists of two volumes of some 316 pages (Cory MS 7, 334; 2 volumes, 1848-1854). A much shorter transcription of the journal, also in typescript, was donated by Mrs Jolly (Florence Marion Stirk, Anthony Jolly’s mother), who was Stirk’s grand-daughter, and so a direct descendant (Cory MS MS 6,028).

A very active and persuasive Cory library collector and curator, Una Long, over the 1940s and 1950s largely established the Cory collections. It is likely that the Jollys had been persuaded by her that the journal should find a home there and that a transcription was agreed to because they did not want to surrender the original. Long certainly typed the shorter version herself, with initialled comments on the typescript showing this. However, why the two versions exist is not known.

Diaries and journals in the WWW project

The Whites Writing Whiteness project is specifically concerned with letter-writing and the representational order that letters, from one person to another and with the expectation of response, inscribe. In addition, however, a small number of diaries and journals have been included in the sources it has interrogated, for particular reasons. Joseph Stirk’s journal is among them .

Initially the possible existence of Stirk family letters was of interest, as Joseph Stirk was an Eastern Cape farmer in the earliest period following the arrival of the 1820 settlers. As no family letters are extant, attention turned to the Journal. Journal- and diary-writing generally brings people up close to the fabric of their everyday activities and meetings with other people of a range of kinds, and are therefore possible sources of the writers’ recognition of the diverse character of South African populations, particular rural ones. As a consequence, some journals and diaries of people involved in a very hands-on way with farm workers have been included as a source: the David Chalmers Aiken diary of 1867-9, written in south Natal, in the absence of Aiken family letters; the 1867 John Robert Lys diary, written in Pretoria, in the absence of Lys family letters; the Mark Elliott Pringle diaries of 1911 to 1960 written in the Baviaans River area of the Eastern Cape, included to complement the Pringle-Townsend papers; and the Forbes diaries, written in south-eastern Transvaal, stretching over many years and acting as a daily supplement to the large number of letters written by and to many members of the Forbes family. The Joseph Stirk Journal has been included for similar reasons.

Stirk was important frontier farmer in the very earliest period after the arrival of the 1820 Settlers. There are no Stirk letters in archival locations that could be included in WWW research. The Stirks were part of a network or figurational grouping that also included the Southeys, for whom partial sources also exist, with these journals and the ‘Southey Clan’ letters  discussed elsewhere on WWW pages complimenting each other, and casting a very different light on events  of the day from the Robert White letters, written in the same area and over a similar time period, and also the Dods Pringle letters and other materials regarding the related Baviaans River area. Working on the complete Stirk journal was a possibility and would have been pursued if there had also been Stirk letters, for in the same way that the Forbes diaries compliment the extensive Forbes family letters, Stirk’s journal might have done something similar regarding a large set of family letters. However, given the absence of such letters, but the importance of the Stirks and events on the Eastern Cape frontier over the time-period covered by the journal, utilising the shorter version was strategically the best option for WWW research.

The Stirk Journal

The relationship between the two versions of Joseph Stirk’s Journal is that the selected typescript focuses on short extracts of entries for the dates in question. Accompanying comments made in notes on the shorter version indicate that these dates were selected because particular detail had been recorded about farming and also events now referred to as part of the Eastern Cape Frontier Wars. This makes the extracted version especially interesting for WWW purposes, for by doing so Una Long focused on how race matters appear in them, in relation to the ordinary activities of farm and other workers and the extraordinary oned connected with the war. The shorter journal has entries for most dates between 1 November 1848 and 3 June 1851, and between 22 June 1851 and 31 December 1854, the end of the Seventh and the period of the Eighth Frontier Wars. These are brief extracts, most in quotation marks, which record Stirk’s daily activities and significant events in the Peddie area.

Interesting aspects of the Stirk Journal are:

  • Stirk writes in a direct and immediate way that conveys considerable information with economy; his spelling, grammar, sentence construction and so on are those that characterise functional literacy only, but in no sense hinder his considerable facility.
  • The extracts include arrivals, departures etc, also Stirk’s farming, building and transport-riding work, contracts for fodder, prices and charges. Themes include building, ploughing, hunting, tendering, selling, as well as the fighting.
  • William Southey, Richard Southey, Rev Henry Dugmore, Richard Cawood, Rev William Shaw, are all mentioned and the sense of interlocking settler networks rather than rural isolation is given.
  • The Journal is a good source of information about how farms were managed and how the everyday business of farming work was organised with regards to the work of black and coloured labour.
  • The 1853 War features in many entries. However, there are no descriptions of fighting, with the movements of the military and ‘Kafirs’, the effects on Peddie, and rumours and reports, being the focus.
  • Race terminology appears habitually in the homogenised form of general categories used to describe individuals or groups, such as the F/fingoes, Kafirs, ‘imployed the Kafir to heard the farm’ and so on, with it being only those men seen as chiefs, such as ‘Kafir Chief Cosa’, who are accorded personal names.
  • No direct evaluation is attached to these other than the homogenisation itself, so that, for example, there are no qualifying adjectives attached to these category uses. The effect is nonetheless one of considerable distancing and is very different, for example, from how Robert Chalmers Aiken or the Forbes write about the African workers on their farms.

Last updated: 14 March 2017


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